Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson
Hesther Lynch Piozzi

Part 1 out of 3



Mrs. Piozzi, by her second marriage, was by her first marriage the Mrs.
Thrale in whose house at Streatham Doctor Johnson was, after the year of
his first introduction, 1765, in days of infirmity, an honoured and a
cherished friend. The year of the beginning of the friendship was the year
in which Johnson, fifty-six years old, obtained his degree of LL.D. from
Dublin, and--though he never called himself Doctor--was thenceforth called
Doctor by all his friends.

Before her marriage Mrs. Piozzi had been Miss Hesther Lynch Salusbury, a
young lady of a good Welsh family. She was born in the year 174O, and she
lived until the year 1821. She celebrated her eightieth birthday on the
27th of January, 182O, by a concert, ball, and supper to six or seven
hundred people, and led off the dancing at the ball with an adopted son for
partner. When Johnson was first introduced to her, as Mrs. Thrale, she was
a lively, plump little lady, twenty-five years old, short of stature, broad
of build, with an animated face, touched, according to the fashion of life
in her early years, with rouge, which she continued to use when she found
that it had spoilt her complexion. Her hands were rather coarse, but her
handwriting was delicate.

Henry Thrale, whom she married, was the head of the great brewery house now
known as that of Barclay and Perkins. Henry Thrale's father had succeeded
Edmund Halsey, who began life by running away from his father, a miller at
St. Albans. Halsey was taken in as a clerk-of-all-work at the Anchor
Brewhouse in Southwark, became a house-clerk, able enough to please Child,
his master, and handsome enough to please his master's daughter. He
married the daughter and succeeded to Child's Brewery, made much money, and
had himself an only daughter, whom he married to a lord. Henry Thrale's
father was a nephew of Halseys, who had worked in the brewery for twenty
years, when, after Halsey's death, he gave security for thirty thousand
pounds as the price of the business, to which a noble lord could not
succeed. In eleven years he had paid the purchase-money, and was making a
large fortune. To this business his son, who was Johnson's friend, Henry
Thrale, succeeded; and upon Thrale's death it was bought for 15O,OOO pounds
by a member of the Quaker family of Barclay, who took Thrale's old manager,
Perkins, into partnership.

Johnson became, after 1765, familiar in the house of the Thrales at
Streatham. There was much company. Mrs. Thrale had a taste for literary
guests and literary guests had, on their part, a taste for her good
dinners. Johnson was the lion-in-chief. There was Dr. Johnson's room
always at his disposal; and a tidy wig kept for his special use, because
his own was apt to be singed up the middle by close contact with the
candle, which he put, being short-sighted, between his eyes and a book.
Mrs. Thrale had skill in languages, read Latin, French, Italian, and
Spanish. She read literature, could quote aptly, and put knowledge as well
as playful life into her conversation. Johnson's regard for the Thrales
was very real, and it was heartily returned, though Mrs. Thrale had, like
her friend, some weaknesses, in common with most people who feed lions and
wish to pass for wits among the witty.

About fourteen years after Johnson's first acquaintance with the Thrales--
when Johnson was seventy years old and Mrs. Thrale near forty--the little
lady, who had also lost several children, was unhappy in the thought that
she had ceased to be appreciated by her husband. Her husband's temper
became affected by the commercial troubles of 1762, and Mrs. Thrale became
jealous of the regard between him and Sophy Streatfield, a rich widow's
daughter. Under January, 1779, she wrote in her "Thraliana," "Mr. Thrale
has fallen in love, really and seriously, with Sophy Streatfield; but there
is no wonder in that; she is very pretty, very gentle, soft, and
insinuating; hangs about him, dances round him, cries when she parts from
him, squeezes his hand slily, and with her sweet eyes full of tears looks
so fondly in his face--and all for love of me, as she pretends, that I can
hardly sometimes help laughing in her face. A man must not be a MAN but an
IT to resist such artillery." Mrs. Thrale goes on to record conquests made
by this irresistible Sophy in other directions, showing the same temper of
jealousy. Thrale died on the 4th of April, 1781.

Mrs. Thrale had entered in her "Thraliana" under July, 178O, being then at
Brighton, "I have picked up Piozzi here, the great Italian singer. He is
amazingly like my father. He shall teach Hesther." On the 25th of July,
1784, being at Bath, her entry was, "I am returned from church the happy
wife of my lovely, faithful Piozzi. . . . subject of my prayers, object of
my wishes, my sighs, my reverence, my esteem." Her age then was
forty-four, and on the 13th of December in the same year Johnson died. The
newspapers of the day dealt hardly with her. They called her an amorous
widow, and Piozzi a fortune-hunter. Her eldest daughter (afterwards
Viscountess Keith) refused to recognise the new father, and shut herself up
in a house at Brighton with a nurse, Tib, where she lived upon two hundred
a year. Two younger sisters, who were at school, lived afterwards with the
eldest. Only the fourth daughter, the youngest, went with her mother and
her mother's new husband to Italy. Johnson, too, was grieved by the
marriage, and had shown it, but had written afterwards most kindly. Mrs.
Piozzi in Florence was playing at literature with the poetasters of "The
Florence Miscellany" and "The British Album" when she was working at these
"Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson." Her book of anecdotes was planned
at Florence in 1785, the year after her friend's death, finished at
Florence in October, 1785, and published in the year 1786. There is a
touch of bitterness in the book which she thought of softening, but her
"lovely, faithful Piozzi" wished it to remain.
H. M.


I have somewhere heard or read that the preface before a book, like the
portico before a house, should be contrived so as to catch, but not detain,
the attention of those who desire admission to the family within, or leave
to look over the collection of pictures made by one whose opportunities of
obtaining them we know to have been not unfrequent. I wish not to keep my
readers long from such intimacy with the manners of Dr. Johnson, or such
knowledge of his sentiments as these pages can convey. To urge my distance
from England as an excuse for the book's being ill-written would be
ridiculous; it might indeed serve as a just reason for my having written it
at all; because, though others may print the same aphorisms and stories, I
cannot HERE be sure that they have done so. As the Duke says, however, to
the Weaver, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, "Never excuse; if your play be a
bad one, keep at least the excuses to yourself."

I am aware that many will say I have not spoken highly enough of Dr.
Johnson; but it will be difficult for those who say so to speak more
highly. If I have described his manners as they were, I have been careful
to show his superiority to the common forms of common life. It is surely
no dispraise to an oak that it does not bear jessamine; and he who should
plant honeysuckle round Trajan's column would not be thought to adorn, but
to disgrace it.

When I have said that he was more a man of genius than of learning, I mean
not to take from the one part of his character that which I willingly give
to the other. The erudition of Mr. Johnson proved his genius; for he had
not acquired it by long or profound study: nor can I think those
characters the greatest which have most learning driven into their heads,
any more than I can persuade myself to consider the River Jenisca as
superior to the Nile, because the first receives near seventy tributary
streams in the course of its unmarked progress to the sea, while the great
parent of African plenty, flowing from an almost invisible source, and
unenriched by any extraneous waters, except eleven nameless rivers, pours
his majestic torrent into the ocean by seven celebrated mouths.

But I must conclude my preface, and begin my book, the first I ever
presented before the public; from whose awful appearance in some measure to
defend and conceal myself, I have thought fit to retire behind the
Telamonian shield, and show as little of myself as possible, well aware of
the exceeding difference there is between fencing in the school and
fighting in the field. Studious, however, to avoid offending, and careless
of that offence which can be taken without a cause, I here not unwillingly
submit my slight performance to the decision of that glorious country,
which I have the daily delight to hear applauded in others, as eminently
just, generous, and humane.


Too much intelligence is often as pernicious to biography as too little;
the mind remains perplexed by contradiction of probabilities, and finds
difficulty in separating report from truth. If Johnson then lamented that
so little had ever been said about Butler, I might with more reason be led
to complain that so much has been said about himself; for numberless
informers but distract or cloud information, as glasses which multiply will
for the most part be found also to obscure. Of a life, too, which for the
last twenty years was passed in the very front of literature, every leader
of a literary company, whether officer or subaltern, naturally becomes
either author or critic, so that little less than the recollection that it
was ONCE the request of the deceased, and TWICE the desire of those whose
will I ever delighted to comply with, should have engaged me to add my
little book to the number of those already written on the subject. I used
to urge another reason for forbearance, and say, that all the readers
would, on this singular occasion, be the writers of his life: like the
first representation of the Masque of Comus, which, by changing their
characters from spectators to performers, was ACTED by the lords and ladies
it was WRITTEN to entertain. This objection is, however, now at an end, as
I have found friends, far remote indeed from literary questions, who may
yet be diverted from melancholy by my description of Johnson's manners,
warmed to virtue even by the distant reflection of his glowing excellence,
and encouraged by the relation of his animated zeal to persist in the
profession as well as practice of Christianity.

Samuel Johnson was the son of Michael Johnson, a bookseller at Lichfield,
in Staffordshire; a very pious and worthy man, but wrong-headed, positive,
and afflicted with melancholy, as his son, from whom alone I had the
information, once told me: his business, however, leading him to be much
on horseback, contributed to the preservation of his bodily health and
mental sanity, which, when he stayed long at home, would sometimes be about
to give way; and Mr. Johnson said, that when his workshop, a detached
building, had fallen half down for want of money to repair it, his father
was not less diligent to lock the door every night, though he saw that
anybody might walk in at the back part, and knew that there was no security
obtained by barring the front door. "THIS," says his son, "was madness,
you may see, and would have been discoverable in other instances of the
prevalence of imagination, but that poverty prevented it from playing such
tricks as riches and leisure encourage." Michael was a man of still larger
size and greater strength than his son, who was reckoned very like him, but
did not delight in talking much of his family: "One has," says he, "SO
little pleasure in reciting the anecdotes of beggary." One day, however,
hearing me praise a favourite friend with partial tenderness as well as
true esteem: "Why do you like that man's acquaintance so?" said he.
"Because," replied I, "he is open and confiding, and tells me stories of
his uncles and cousins; I love the light parts of a solid character."
"Nay, if you are for family history," says Mr. Johnson, good-humouredly,
"_I_ can fit you: I had an uncle, Cornelius Ford, who, upon a journey,
stopped and read an inscription written on a stone he saw standing by the
wayside, set up, as it proved, in honour of a man who had leaped a certain
leap thereabouts, the extent of which was specified upon the stone: 'Why
now,' says my uncle, 'I could leap it in my boots;' and he did leap it in
his boots. I had likewise another uncle, Andrew," continued he, "my
father's brother, who kept the ring in Smithfield (where they wrestled and
boxed) for a whole year, and never was thrown or conquered. Here now are
uncles for you, Mistress, if that's the way to your heart." Mr. Johnson
was very conversant in the art of attack and defence by boxing, which
science he had learned from this uncle Andrew, I believe; and I have heard
him descant upon the age when people were received, and when rejected, in
the schools once held for that brutal amusement, much to the admiration of
those who had no expectation of his skill in such matters, from the sight
of a figure which precluded all possibility of personal prowess; though,
because he saw Mr. Thrale one day leap over a cabriolet stool, to show that
he was not tired after a chase of fifty miles or more, HE suddenly jumped
over it too, but in a way so strange and so unwieldy, that our terror lest
he should break his bones took from us even the power of laughing.

Michael Johnson was past fifty years old when he married his wife, who was
upwards of forty, yet I think her son told me she remained three years
childless before he was born into the world, who so greatly contributed to
improve it. In three years more she brought another son, Nathaniel, who
lived to be twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old, and of whose manly
spirit I have heard his brother speak with pride and pleasure, mentioning
one circumstance, particular enough, that when the company were one day
lamenting the badness of the roads, he inquired where they could be, as he
travelled the country more than most people, and had never seen a bad road
in his life. The two brothers did not, however, much delight in each
other's company, being always rivals for the mother's fondness; and many of
the severe reflections on domestic life in Rasselas took their source from
its author's keen recollections of the time passed in his early years.
Their father, Michael, died of an inflammatory fever at the age of
seventy-six, as Mr. Johnson told me, their mother at eighty-nine, of a
gradual decay. She was slight in her person, he said, and rather below
than above the common size. So excellent was her character, and so
blameless her life, that when an oppressive neighbour once endeavoured to
take from her a little field she possessed, he could persuade no attorney
to undertake the cause against a woman so beloved in her narrow circle:
and it is this incident he alludes to in the line of his "Vanity of Human
Wishes," calling her

"The general favourite as the general friend."

Nor could any one pay more willing homage to such a character, though she
had not been related to him, than did Dr. Johnson on every occasion that
offered: his disquisition on Pope's epitaph placed over Mrs. Corbet is a
proof of that preference always given by him to a noiseless life over a
bustling one; but however taste begins, we almost always see that it ends
in simplicity; the glutton finishes by losing his relish for anything
highly sauced, and calls for his boiled chicken at the close of many years
spent in the search of dainties; the connoisseurs are soon weary of Rubens,
and the critics of Lucan; and the refinements of every kind heaped upon
civil life always sicken their possessors before the close of it.

At the age of two years Mr. Johnson was brought up to London by his mother,
to be touched by Queen Anne for the scrofulous evil, which terribly
afflicted his childhood, and left such marks as greatly disfigured a
countenance naturally harsh and rugged, beside doing irreparable damage to
the auricular organs, which never could perform their functions since I
knew him; and it was owing to that horrible disorder, too, that one eye was
perfectly useless to him; that defect, however, was not observable, the
eyes looked both alike. As Mr. Johnson had an astonishing memory, I asked
him if he could remember Queen Anne at all? "He had," he said, "a
confused, but somehow a sort of solemn, recollection of a lady in diamonds,
and a long black hood."

The christening of his brother he remembered with all its circumstances,
and said his mother taught him to spell and pronounce the words 'little
Natty,' syllable by syllable, making him say it over in the evening to her
husband and his guests. The trick which most parents play with their
children, that of showing off their newly-acquired accomplishments,
disgusted Mr. Johnson beyond expression. He had been treated so himself,
he said, till he absolutely loathed his father's caresses, because he knew
they were sure to precede some unpleasing display of his early abilities;
and he used, when neighbours came o' visiting, to run up a tree that he
might not be found and exhibited, such, as no doubt he was, a prodigy of
early understanding. His epitaph upon the duck he killed by treading on it
at five years old--

"Here lies poor duck
That Samuel Johnson trod on;
If it had liv'd it had been good luck,
For it would have been an odd one"--

is a striking example of early expansion of mind and knowledge of language;
yet he always seemed more mortified at the recollection of the bustle his
parents made with his wit than pleased with the thoughts of possessing it.
"That," said he to me one day, "is the great misery of late marriages; the
unhappy produce of them becomes the plaything of dotage. An old man's
child," continued he, "leads much such a life. I think, as a little boy's
dog, teased with awkward fondness, and forced, perhaps, to sit up and beg,
as we call it, to divert a company, who at last go away complaining of
their disagreeable entertainment." In consequence of these maxims, and
full of indignation against such parents as delight to produce their young
ones early into the talking world, I have known Mr. Johnson give a good
deal of pain by refusing to hear the verses the children could recite, or
the songs they could sing, particularly one friend who told him that his
two sons should repeat Gray's "Elegy" to him alternately, that he might
judge who had the happiest cadence. "No, pray, sir," said he, "let the
dears both speak it at once; more noise will by that means be made, and the
noise will be sooner over." He told me the story himself, but I have
forgot who the father was.

Mr. Johnson's mother was daughter to a gentleman in the country, such as
there were many of in those days, who possessing, perhaps, one or two
hundred pounds a year in land, lived on the profits, and sought not to
increase their income. She was, therefore, inclined to think higher of
herself than of her husband, whose conduct in money matters being but
indifferent, she had a trick of teasing him about it, and was, by her son's
account, very importunate with regard to her fears of spending more than
they could afford, though she never arrived at knowing how much that was, a
fault common, as he said, to most women who pride themselves on their
economy. They did not, however, as I could understand, live ill together
on the whole. "My father," says he, "could always take his horse and ride
away for orders when things went badly." The lady's maiden name was Ford;
and the parson who sits next to the punch-bowl in Hogarth's "Modern
Midnight Conversation" was her brother's son. This Ford was a man who
chose to be eminent only for vice, with talents that might have made him
conspicuous in literature, and respectable in any profession he could have
chosen. His cousin has mentioned him in the lives of Fenton and of Broome;
and when he spoke of him to me it was always with tenderness, praising his
acquaintance with life and manners, and recollecting one piece of advice
that no man surely ever followed more exactly: "Obtain," says Ford, "some
general principles of every science; he who can talk only on one subject,
or act only in one department, is seldom wanted, and perhaps never wished
for, while the man of general knowledge can often benefit, and always
please." He used to relate, however, another story less to the credit of
his cousin's penetration, how Ford on some occasion said to him, "You will
make your way the more easily in the world, I see, as you are contented to
dispute no man's claim to conversation excellence; they will, therefore,
more willingly allow your pretensions as a writer." Can one, on such an
occasion, forbear recollecting the predictions of Boileau's father, when
stroking the head of the young satirist?--"Ce petit bon homme," says he,
"n'a point trop d'esprit, MAIS IL ne dira jamais mal de personne." Such
are the prognostics formed by men of wit and sense, as these two certainly
were, concerning the future character and conduct of those for whose
welfare they were honestly and deeply concerned; and so late do those
features of peculiarity come to their growth, which mark a character to all
succeeding generations.

Dr. Johnson first learned to read of his mother and her old maid Catharine,
in whose lap he well remembered sitting while she explained to him the
story of St. George and the Dragon. I know not whether this is the proper
place to add that such was his tenderness, and such his gratitude, that he
took a journey to Lichfield fifty-seven years afterwards to support and
comfort her in her last illness; he had inquired for his nurse, and she was
dead. The recollection of such reading as had delighted him in his infancy
made him always persist in fancying that it was the only reading which
could please an infant; and he used to condemn me for putting Newbery's
books into their hands as too trifling to engage their attention. "Babies
do not want," said he, "to hear about babies; they like to be told of
giants and castles, and of somewhat which can stretch and stimulate their
little minds." When in answer I would urge the numerous editions and quick
sale of "Tommy Prudent" or "Goody Two-Shoes." "Remember always," said he,
"that the parents BUY the books, and that the children never read them."
Mrs. Barbauld, however, had his best praise, and deserved it; no man was
more struck than Mr. Johnson with voluntary descent from possible splendour
to painful duty.

At eight years old he went to school, for his health would not permit him
to be sent sooner; and at the age of ten years his mind was disturbed by
scruples of infidelity, which preyed upon his spirits and made him very
uneasy, the more so as he revealed his uneasiness to no one, being
naturally, as he said, "of a sullen temper and reserved disposition." He
searched, however, diligently but fruitlessly, for evidences of the truth
of revelation; and at length, recollecting a book he had once seen in his
father's shop, entitled "De Veritate Religionis," etc., he began to think
himself highly culpable for neglecting such a means of information, and
took himself severely to task for this sin, adding many acts of voluntary,
and to others unknown, penance. The first opportunity which offered, of
course, he seized the book with avidity, but on examination, not finding
himself scholar enough to peruse its contents, set his heart at rest; and,
not thinking to inquire whether there were any English books written on the
subject, followed his usual amusements, and considered his conscience as
lightened of a crime. He redoubled his diligence to learn the language
that contained the information he most wished for, but from the pain which
guilt had given him he now began to deduce the soul's immortality, which
was the point that belief first stopped at; and from that moment, resolving
to be a Christian, became one of the most zealous and pious ones our nation
ever produced. When he had told me this odd anecdote of his childhood, "I
cannot imagine," said he, "what makes me talk of myself to you so, for I
really never mentioned this foolish story to anybody except Dr. Taylor, not
even to my DEAR, DEAR Bathurst, whom I loved better than ever I loved any
human creature; but poor Bathurst is dead!" Here a long pause and a few
tears ensued. "Why, sir," said I, "how like is all this to Jean Jacques
Rousseau--as like, I mean, as the sensations of frost and fire, when my
child complained yesterday that the ice she was eating BURNED her mouth."
Mr. Johnson laughed at the incongruous ideas, but the first thing which
presented itself to the mind of an ingenious and learned friend whom I had
the pleasure to pass some time with here at Florence was the same
resemblance, though I think the two characters had little in common,
further than an early attention to things beyond the capacity of other
babies, a keen sensibility of right and wrong, and a warmth of imagination
little consistent with sound and perfect health. I have heard him relate
another odd thing of himself too, but it is one which everybody has heard
as well as me: how, when he was about nine years old, having got the play
of Hamlet in his hand, and reading it quietly in his father's kitchen, he
kept on steadily enough till, coming to the Ghost scene, he suddenly
hurried upstairs to the street door that he might see people about him.
Such an incident, as he was not unwilling to relate it, is probably in
every one's possession now; he told it as a testimony to the merits of
Shakespeare. But one day, when my son was going to school, and dear Dr.
Johnson followed as far as the garden gate, praying for his salvation in a
voice which those who listened attentively could hear plain enough, he said
to me suddenly, "Make your boy tell you his dreams: the first corruption
that entered into my heart was communicated in a dream." "What was it,
sir?" said I. "Do not ask me," replied he, with much violence, and walked
away in apparent agitation. I never durst make any further inquiries. He
retained a strong aversion for the memory of Hunter, one of his
schoolmasters, who, he said, once was a brutal fellow, "so brutal," added
he, "that no man who had been educated by him ever sent his son to the same
school." I have, however, heard him acknowledge his scholarship to be very
great. His next master he despised, as knowing less than himself, I found,
but the name of that gentleman has slipped my memory. Mr. Johnson was
himself exceedingly disposed to the general indulgence of children, and was
even scrupulously and ceremoniously attentive not to offend them; he had
strongly persuaded himself of the difficulty people always find to erase
early impressions either of kindness or resentment, and said "he should
never have so loved his mother when a man had she not given him coffee she
could ill afford, to gratify his appetite when a boy." "If you had had
children, sir," said I, "would you have taught them anything?" "I hope,"
replied he, "that I should have willingly lived on bread and water to
obtain instruction for them; but I would not have set their future
friendship to hazard for the sake of thrusting into their heads knowledge
of things for which they might not perhaps have either taste or necessity.
You teach your daughters the diameters of the planets, and wonder when you
have done that they do not delight in your company. No science can be
communicated by mortal creatures without attention from the scholar; no
attention can be obtained from children without the infliction of pain, and
pain is never remembered without resentment." That something should be
learned was, however, so certainly his opinion that I have heard him say
how education had been often compared to agriculture, yet that it resembled
it chiefly in this: "That if nothing is sown, no crop," says he, "can be
obtained." His contempt of the lady who fancied her son could be eminent
without study, because Shakespeare was found wanting in scholastic
learning, was expressed in terms so gross and so well known, I will not
repeat them here.

To recollect, however, and to repeat the sayings of Dr. Johnson, is almost
all that can be done by the writers of his life, as his life, at least
since my acquaintance with him, consisted in little else than talking, when
he was not absolutely employed in some serious piece of work; and whatever
work he did seemed so much below his powers of performance that he appeared
the idlest of all human beings, ever musing till he was called out to
converse, and conversing till the fatigue of his friends, or the
promptitude of his own temper to take offence, consigned him back again to
silent meditation.

The remembrance of what had passed in his own childhood made Mr. Johnson
very solicitous to preserve the felicity of children: and when he had
persuaded Dr. Sumner to remit the tasks usually given to fill up boys'
time during the holidays, he rejoiced exceedingly in the success of his
negotiation, and told me that he had never ceased representing to all the
eminent schoolmasters in England the absurd tyranny of poisoning the hour
of permitted pleasure by keeping future misery before the children's eyes,
and tempting them by bribery or falsehood to evade it. "Bob Sumner," said
he, "however, I have at length prevailed upon. I know not, indeed, whether
his tenderness was persuaded, or his reason convinced, but the effect will
always be the same. Poor Dr. Sumner died, however, before the next

Mr. Johnson was of opinion, too, that young people should have POSITIVE,
not GENERAL, rules given for their direction. "My mother," said he, "was
always telling me that I did not BEHAVE myself properly, that I should
endeavour to learn BEHAVIOUR, and such cant; but when I replied that she
ought to tell me what to do, and what to avoid, her admonitions were
commonly, for that time at least, at an end."

This I fear was, however, at best a momentary refuge found out by
perverseness. No man knew better than Johnson in how many nameless and
numberless actions BEHAVIOUR consists--actions which can scarcely be
reduced to rule, and which come under no description. Of these he retained
so many very strange ones, that I suppose no one who saw his odd manner of
gesticulating much blamed or wondered at the good lady's solicitude
concerning her son's BEHAVIOUR.

Though he was attentive to the peace of children in general, no man had a
stronger contempt than he for such parents as openly profess that they
cannot govern their children. "How," says he, "is an army governed? Such
people, for the most part, multiply prohibitions till obedience becomes
impossible, and authority appears absurd, and never suspect that they tease
their family, their friends, and themselves, only because conversation runs
low, and something must be said."

Of parental authority, indeed, few people thought with a lower degree of
estimation. I one day mentioned the resignation of Cyrus to his father's
will, as related by Xenophon, when, after all his conquests, he requested
the consent of Cambyses to his marriage with a neighbouring princess, and I
added Rollin's applause and recommendation of the example. "Do you not
perceive, then," says Johnson, "that Xenophon on this occasion commends
like a pedant, and Pere Rollin applauds like a slave? If Cyrus by his
conquests had not purchased emancipation, he had conquered to little
purpose indeed. Can you forbear to see the folly of a fellow who has in
his care the lives of thousands, when he begs his papa permission to be
married, and confesses his inability to decide in a matter which concerns
no man's happiness but his own?" Mr. Johnson caught me another time
reprimanding the daughter of my housekeeper for having sat down unpermitted
in her mother's presence. "Why, she gets her living, does she not," said
he, "without her mother's help? Let the wench alone," continued he. And
when we were again out of the women's sight who were concerned in the
dispute: "Poor people's children, dear lady," said he, "never respect
them. I did not respect my own mother, though I loved her. And one day,
when in anger she called me a puppy, I asked her if she knew what they
called a puppy's mother." We were talking of a young fellow who used to
come often to the house; he was about fifteen years old, or less, if I
remember right, and had a manner at once sullen and sheepish. "That lad,"
says Mr. Johnson, "looks like the son of a schoolmaster, which," added he,
"is one of the very worst conditions of childhood. Such a boy has no
father, or worse than none; he never can reflect on his parent but the
reflection brings to his mind some idea of pain inflicted, or of sorrow

I will relate one thing more that Dr. Johnson said about babyhood before I
quit the subject; it was this: "That little people should be encouraged
always to tell whatever they hear particularly striking to some brother,
sister, or servant immediately, before the impression is erased by the
intervention of newer occurrences. He perfectly remembered the first time
he ever heard of Heaven and Hell," he said, "because when his mother had
made out such a description of both places as she thought likely to seize
the attention of her infant auditor, who was then in bed with her, she got
up, and dressing him before the usual time, sent him directly to call a
favourite workman in the house, to whom he knew he would communicate the
conversation while it was yet impressed upon his mind. The event was what
she wished, and it was to that method chiefly that he owed his uncommon
felicity of remembering distant occurrences and long past conversations."

At the age of eighteen Dr. Johnson quitted school, and escaped from the
tuition of those he hated or those he despised. I have heard him relate
very few college adventures. He used to say that our best accounts of his
behaviour there would be gathered from Dr. Adams and Dr. Taylor, and that
he was sure they would always tell the truth. He told me, however, one day
how, when he was first entered at the University, he passed a morning, in
compliance with the customs of the place, at his tutor's chambers; but,
finding him no scholar, went no more. In about ten days after, meeting the
same gentleman, Mr. Jordan, in the street, he offered to pass by without
saluting him; but the tutor stopped, and inquired, not roughly neither,
what he had been doing? "Sliding on the ice," was the reply, and so turned
away with disdain. He laughed very heartily at the recollection of his own
insolence, and said they endured it from him with wonderful acquiescence,
and a gentleness that, whenever he thought of it, astonished himself. He
told me, too, that when he made his first declamation, he wrote over but
one copy, and that coarsely; and having given it into the hand of the
tutor, who stood to receive it as he passed, was obliged to begin by chance
and continue on how he could, for he had got but little of it by heart; so
fairly trusting to his present powers for immediate supply, he finished by
adding astonishment to the applause of all who knew how little was owing to
study. A prodigious risk, however, said some one. "Not at all!" exclaims
Johnson. "No man, I suppose, leaps at once into deep water who does not
know how to swim."

I doubt not but this story will be told by many of his biographers, and
said so to him when he told it me on the 18th of July, 1773. "And who will
be my biographer," said he, "do you think?" "Goldsmith, no doubt," replied
I, "and he will do it the best among us." "The dog would write it best, to
be sure," replied he; "but his particular malice towards me, and general
disregard for truth, would make the book useless to all, and injurious to
my character." "Oh! as to that," said I, "we should all fasten upon him,
and force him to do you justice; but the worst is, the Doctor does not KNOW
your life; nor can I tell indeed who does, except Dr. Taylor of Ashbourne."
"Why, Taylor," said he, "is better acquainted with my HEART than any man or
woman now alive; and the history of my Oxford exploits lies all between him
and Adams; but Dr. James knows my very early days better than he. After my
coming to London to drive the world about a little, you must all go to Jack
Hawkesworth for anecdotes. I lived in great familiarity with him (though I
think there was not much affection) from the year 1753 till the time Mr.
Thrale and you took me up. I intend, however, to disappoint the rogues,
and either make you write the life, with Taylor's intelligence, or, which
is better, do it myself, after outliving you all. I am now," added he,
"keeping a diary, in hopes of using it for that purpose some time." Here
the conversation stopped, from my accidentally looking in an old magazine
of the year 1768, where I saw the following lines with his name to them,
and asked if they were his:--

Verses said to be written by Dr. Samuel Johnson, at the request of a
gentleman to whom a lady had given a sprig of myrtle.
"What hopes, what terrors, does thy gift create,
Ambiguous emblem of uncertain fate;
The myrtle, ensign of supreme command,
Consigned by Venus to Melissa's hand:
Not less capricious than a reigning fair,
Now grants, and now rejects a lover's prayer.
In myrtle shades oft sings the happy swain,
In myrtle shades despairing ghosts complain:
The myrtle crowns the happy lovers' heads,
The unhappy lover's grave the myrtle spreads:
Oh, then, the meaning of thy gift impart,
And ease the throbbings of an anxious heart!
Soon must this bough, as you shall fix his doom,
Adorn Philander's head, or grace his tomb."

"Why, now, do but see how the world is gaping for a wonder!" cries Mr.
Johnson. "I think it is now just forty years ago that a young fellow had a
sprig of myrtle given him by a girl he courted, and asked me to write him
some verses that he might present her in return. I promised, but forgot;
and when he called for his lines at the time agreed on--'Sit still a
moment,' says I, 'dear Mund, and I'll fetch them thee,' so stepped aside
for five minutes, and wrote the nonsense you now keep such a stir about."

Upon revising these anecdotes, it is impossible not to be struck with shame
and regret that one treasured no more of them up; but no experience is
sufficient to cure the vice of negligence. Whatever one sees constantly,
or might see constantly, becomes uninteresting; and we suffer every trivial
occupation, every slight amusement, to hinder us from writing down what,
indeed, we cannot choose but remember, but what we should wish to recollect
with pleasure, unpoisoned by remorse for not remembering more. While I
write this, I neglect impressing my mind with the wonders of art and
beauties of nature that now surround me; and shall one day, perhaps, think
on the hours I might have profitably passed in the Florentine Gallery, and
reflecting on Raphael's St. John at that time, as upon Johnson's
conversation in this moment, may justly exclaim of the months spent by me
most delightfully in Italy--

"That I prized every hour that passed by,
Beyond all that had pleased me before;
But now they are past, and I sigh
And I grieve that I prized them no more."

Dr. Johnson delighted in his own partiality for Oxford; and one day, at my
house, entertained five members of the other University with various
instances of the superiority of Oxford, enumerating the gigantic names of
many men whom it had produced, with apparent triumph. At last I said to
him, "Why, there happens to be no less than five Cambridge men in the room
now." "I did not," said he, "think of that till you told me; but the wolf
don't count the sheep." When the company were retired, we happened to be
talking of Dr. Barnard, the Provost of Eton, who died about that time; and
after a long and just eulogium on his wit, his learning, and his goodness
of heart, "He was the only man, too," says Mr. Johnson, quite seriously,
"that did justice to my good breeding; and you may observe that I am
well-bred to a degree of needless scrupulosity. No man," continued he, not
observing the amazement of his hearers, "no man is so cautious not to
interrupt another; no man thinks it so necessary to appear attentive when
others are speaking; no man so steadily refuses preference to himself, or
so willingly bestows it on another, as I do; nobody holds so strongly as I
do the necessity of ceremony, and the ill effects which follow the breach
of it, yet people think me rude; but Barnard did me justice." "'Tis pity,"
said I, laughing, "that he had not heard you compliment the Cambridge men
after dinner to-day." "Why," replied he, "I was inclined to DOWN them sure
enough; but then a fellow DESERVES to be of Oxford that talks so." I have
heard him at other times relate how he used so sit in some coffee-house
there, and turn M----'s "C-r-ct-c-s" into ridicule for the diversion of
himself and of chance comers-in. "The 'Elf-da,'" says he, "was too
exquisitely pretty; I could make no fun out of that." When upon some
occasions he would express his astonishment that he should have an enemy in
the world, while he had been doing nothing but good to his neighbours, I
used to make him recollect these circumstances. "Why, child," said he,
"what harm could that do the fellow? I always thought very well of M----n
for a CAMBRIDGE man; he is, I believe, a mighty blameless character." Such
tricks were, however, the more unpardonable in Mr. Johnson, because no one
could harangue like him about the difficulty always found in forgiving
petty injuries, or in provoking by needless offence. Mr. Jordan, his
tutor, had much of his affection, though he despised his want of scholastic
learning. "That creature would," said he, "defend his pupils to the last:
no young lad under his care should suffer for committing slight
improprieties, while he had breath to defend, or power to protect them. If
I had had sons to send to College," added he, "Jordan should have been
their tutor."

Sir William Browne, the physician, who lived to a very extraordinary age,
and was in other respects an odd mortal, with more genius than
understanding, and more self sufficiency than wit, was the only person who
ventured to oppose Mr. Johnson when he had a mind to shine by exalting his
favourite university, and to express his contempt of the Whiggish notions
which prevail at Cambridge. HE did it once, however, with surprising
felicity. His antagonist having repeated with an air of triumph the famous
epigram written by Dr. Trapp--

"Our royal master saw, with heedful eyes,
The wants of his two universities:
Troops he to Oxford sent, as knowing why
That learned body wanted loyalty:
But books to Cambridge gave, as well discerning
That that right loyal body wanted learning."

Which, says Sir William, might well be answered thus:--

"The King to Oxford sent his troop of horse,
For Tories own no argument but force;
With equal care to Cambridge books he sent,
For Whigs allow no force but argument."

Mr. Johnson did him the justice to say it was one of the happiest
extemporaneous productions he ever met with, though he once comically
confessed that he hated to repeat the wit of a Whig urged in support of
Whiggism. Says Garrick to him one day, "Why did not you make me a Tory,
when we lived so much together? You love to make people Tories." "Why,"
says Johnson, pulling a heap of halfpence from his pocket, "did not the
king make these guineas?"

Of Mr. Johnson's Toryism the world has long been witness, and the political
pamphlets written by him in defence of his party are vigorous and elegant.
He often delighted his imagination with the thoughts of having destroyed
Junius, an anonymous writer who flourished in the years 1769 and 177O, and
who kept himself so ingeniously concealed from every endeavour to detect
him that no probable guess was, I believe, ever formed concerning the
author's name, though at that time the subject of general conversation.
Mr. Johnson made us all laugh one day, because I had received a remarkably
fine Stilton cheese as a present from some person who had packed and
directed it carefully, but without mentioning whence it came. Mr. Thrale,
desirous to know who we were obliged to, asked every friend as they came
in, but nobody owned it. "Depend upon it, sir," says Johnson, "it was sent

The "False Alarm," his first and favourite pamphlet, was written at our
house between eight o'clock on Wednesday night and twelve o'clock on
Thursday night. We read it to Mr. Thrale when he came very late home from
the House of Commons; the other political tracts followed in their order.
I have forgotten which contains the stroke at Junius, but shall for ever
remember the pleasure it gave him to have written it. It was, however, in
the year 1775 that Mr. Edmund Burke made the famous speech in Parliament
that struck even foes with admiration, and friends with delight. Among the
nameless thousands who are contented to echo those praises they have not
skill to invent, _I_ ventured, before Dr. Johnson himself, to applaud with
rapture the beautiful passage in it concerning Lord Bathurst and the Angel,
which, said our Doctor, had I been in the house, I would have answered

"Suppose, Mr. Speaker, that to Wharton or to Marlborough, or to any of the
eminent Whigs of the last age, the devil had, not with any great
consented to appear, he would, perhaps, in somewhat like these words, have
commenced the conversation:

"'You seem, my lord, to be concerned at the judicious apprehension that
while you are sapping the foundations of royalty at home, and propagating
here the dangerous doctrine of resistance, the distance of America may
secure its inhabitants from your arts, though active. But I will unfold to
you the gay prospects of futurity. This people, now so innocent and
harmless, shall draw the sword against their mother country, and bathe its
point in the blood of their benefactors; this people, now contented with a
little, shall then refuse to spare what they themselves confess they could
not miss; and these men, now so honest and so grateful, shall, in return
for peace and for protection, see their vile agents in the House of
Parliament, there to sow the seeds of sedition, and propagate confusion,
perplexity, and pain. Be not dispirited, then, at the contemplation of
their present happy state: I promise you that anarchy, poverty, and death
shall, by my care, be carried even across the spacious Atlantic, and settle
in America itself, the sure consequences of our beloved Whiggism.'"

This I thought a thing so very particular that I begged his leave to write
it down directly, before anything could intervene that might make me forget
the force of the expressions. A trick which I have, however, seen played
on common occasions, of sitting steadily down at the other end of the room
to write at the moment what should be said in company, either BY Dr.
Johnson or TO him, I never practised myself, nor approved of in another.
There is something so ill-bred, and so inclining to treachery in this
conduct, that were it commonly adopted all confidence would soon be exiled
from society, and a conversation assembly-room would become tremendous as a
court of justice. A set of acquaintance joined in familiar chat may say a
thousand things which, as the phrase is, pass well enough at the time,
though they cannot stand the test of critical examination; and as all talk
beyond that which is necessary to the purposes of actual business is a kind
of game, there will be ever found ways of playing fairly or unfairly at it,
which distinguish the gentleman from the juggler. Dr. Johnson, as well as
many of my acquaintance, knew that I kept a common-place book, and he one
day said to me good-humouredly that he would give me something to write in
my repository. "I warrant," said he, "there is a great deal about me in
it. You shall have at least one thing worth your pains, so if you will get
the pen and ink I will repeat to you Anacreon's 'Dove' directly; but tell
at the same time that as I never was struck with anything in the Greek
language till I read THAT, so I never read anything in the same language
since that pleased me as much. I hope my translation," continued he, "is
not worse than that of Frank Fawkes." Seeing me disposed to laugh, "Nay,
nay," said he, "Frank Fawkes has done them very finely."

"Lovely courier of the sky,
Whence and whither dost thou fly?
Scatt'ring, as thy pinions play,
Liquid fragrance all the way.
Is it business? is it love?
Tell me, tell me, gentle Dove.
'Soft Anacreon's vows I bear,
Vows to Myrtale the fair;
Graced with all that charms the heart,
Blushing nature, smiling art.
Venus, courted by an ode,
On the bard her Dove bestowed.
Vested with a master's right
Now Anacreon rules my flight;
His the letters that you see,
Weighty charge consigned to me;
Think not yet my service hard,
Joyless task without reward;
Smiling at my master's gates,
Freedom my return awaits.
But the liberal grant in vain
Tempts me to be wild again.
Can a prudent Dove decline
Blissful bondage such as mine?
Over hills and fields to roam,
Fortune's guest without a home;
Under leaves to hide one's head,
Slightly sheltered, coarsely fed;
Now my better lot bestows
Sweet repast, and soft repose;
Now the generous bowl I sip
As it leaves Anacreon's lip;
Void of care, and free from dread,
From his fingers snatch his bread,
Then with luscious plenty gay,
Round his chamber dance and play;
Or from wine, as courage springs,
O'er his face extend my wings;
And when feast and frolic tire,
Drop asleep upon his lyre.
This is all, be quick and go,
More than all thou canst not know;
Let me now my pinions ply,
I have chattered like a pie.'"

When I had finished, "But you must remember to add," says Mr. Johnson,
"that though these verses were planned, and even begun, when I was sixteen
years old, I never could find time to make an end of them before I was

This facility of writing, and this dilatoriness ever to write, Mr. Johnson
always retained, from the days that he lay abed and dictated his first
publication to Mr. Hector, who acted as his amanuensis, to the moment he
made me copy out those variations in Pope's "Homer" which are printed in
the "Poets' Lives." "And now," said he, when I had finished it for him, "I
fear not Mr. Nicholson of a pin." The fine 'Rambler,' on the subject of
Procrastination, was hastily composed, as I have heard, in Sir Joshua
Reynolds's parlour, while the boy waited to carry it to press; and
numberless are the instances of his writing under immediate pressure of
importunity or distress. He told me that the character of Sober in the
'Idler' was by himself intended as his own portrait, and that he had his
own outset into life in his eye when he wrote the Eastern story of
"Gelaleddin." Of the allegorical papers in the 'Rambler,' Labour and Rest
was his favourite; but Scrotinus, the man who returns late in life to
receive honours in his native country, and meets with mortification instead
of respect, was by him considered as a masterpiece in the science of life
and manners. The character of Prospero in the fourth volume Garrick took
to be his; and I have heard the author say that he never forgave the
offence. Sophron was likewise a picture drawn from reality, and by
Gelidus, the philosopher, he meant to represent Mr. Coulson, a
mathematician, who formerly lived at Rochester. The man immortalised for
purring like a cat was, as he told me, one Busby, a proctor in the Commons.
He who barked so ingeniously, and then called the drawer to drive away the
dog, was father to Dr. Salter, of the Charterhouse. He who sang a song,
and by correspondent motions of his arm chalked out a giant on the wall,
was one Richardson, an attorney. The letter signed "Sunday" was written by
Miss Talbot; and he fancied the billets in the first volume of the
'Rambler' were sent him by Miss Mulso, now Mrs. Chapone. The papers
contributed by Mrs. Carter had much of his esteem, though he always blamed
me for preferring the letter signed "Chariessa" to the allegory, where
religion and superstition are indeed most masterly delineated.

When Dr. Johnson read his own satire, in which the life of a scholar is
painted, with the various obstructions thrown in his way to fortune and to
fame, he burst into a passion of tears one day. The family and Mr. Scott
only were present, who, in a jocose way, clapped him on the back, and said,
"What's all this, my dear sir? Why, you and I and HERCULES, you know, were
all troubled with MELANCHOLY." As there are many gentlemen of the same
name, I should say, perhaps, that it was a Mr. Scott who married Miss
Robinson, and that I think I have heard Mr. Thrale call him George Lowis,
or George Augustus, I have forgot which. He was a very large man, however,
and made out the triumvirate with Johnson and Hercules comically enough.
The Doctor was so delighted at his odd sally that he suddenly embraced him,
and the subject was immediately changed. I never saw Mr. Scott but that
once in my life.

Dr. Johnson was liberal enough in granting literary assistance to others, I
think; and innumerable are the prefaces, sermons, lectures, and dedications
which he used to make for people who begged of him. Mr. Murphy related in
his and my hearing one day, and he did not deny it, that when Murphy joked
him the week before for having been so diligent of late between Dodd's
sermon and Kelly's prologue, Dr. Johnson replied, "Why, sir, when they come
to me with a dead staymaker and a dying parson, what can a man do?" He
SAID, however, that "he hated to give away literary performances, or even
to sell them too cheaply. The next generation shall not accuse me," added
he, "of beating down the price of literature. One hates, besides, ever to
give that which one has been accustomed to sell. Would not you, sir,"
turning to Mr. Thrale, "rather give away money than porter?"

Mr. Johnson had never, by his own account, been a close student, and used
to advise young people never to be without a book in their pocket, to be
read at bye-times when they had nothing else to do. "It has been by that
means," said he to a boy at our house one day, "that all my knowledge has
been gained, except what I have picked up by running about the world with
my wits ready to observe, and my tongue ready to talk. A man is seldom in
a humour to unlock his bookcase, set his desk in order, and betake himself
to serious study; but a retentive memory will do something, and a fellow
shall have strange credit given him, if he can but recollect striking
passages from different books, keep the authors separate in his head, and
bring his stock of knowledge artfully into play. How else," added he, "do
the gamesters manage when they play for more money than they are worth?"
His Dictionary, however, could not, one would think, have been written by
running up and down; but he really did not consider it as a great
performance; and used to say "that he might have done it easily in two
years had not his health received several shocks during the time."

When Mr. Thrale, in consequence of this declaration, teased him in the year
1768 to give a new edition of it, because, said he, there are four or five
gross faults: "Alas! sir," replied Johnson, "there are four or five
hundred faults instead of four or five; but you do not consider that it
would take me up three whole months' labour, and when the time was expired
the work would not be done." When the booksellers set him about it,
however, some years after, he went cheerfully to the business, said he was
well paid, and that they deserved to have it done carefully. His reply to
the person who complimented him on its coming out first, mentioning the ill
success of the French in a similar attempt, is well known, and, I trust,
has been often recorded. "Why, what would you expect, dear sir," said he,
"from fellows that eat frogs?" I have, however, often thought Dr. Johnson
more free than prudent in professing so loudly his little skill in the
Greek language; for though he considered it as a proof of a narrow mind to
be too careful of literary reputation, yet no man could be more enraged
than he if an enemy, taking advantage of this confession, twitted him with
his ignorance; and I remember when the King of Denmark was in England one
of his noblemen was brought by Mr. Colman to see Dr. Johnson at our country
house, and having heard, he said, that he was not famous for Greek
literature, attacked him on the weak side, politely adding that he chose
that conversation on purpose to favour himself. Our Doctor, however,
displayed so copious, so compendious a knowledge of authors, books, and
every branch of learning in that language, that the gentleman appeared
astonished. When he was gone home, says Johnson, "Now, for all this
triumph I may thank Thrale's Xenophon here, as I think, excepting that ONE,
I have not looked in a Greek book these ten years; but see what haste my
dear friends were all in," continued he, "to tell this poor innocent
foreigner that I know nothing of Greek! Oh, no, he knows nothing of
Greek!" with a loud burst of laughing.

When Davies printed the "Fugitive Pieces" without his knowledge or consent,
"How," said I, "would Pope have raved, had he been served so!" "We should
never," replied he, "have heard the last on't, to be sure; but then Pope
was a narrow man. I will, however," added he, "storm and bluster MYSELF a
little this time," so went to London in all the wrath he could muster up.
At his return I asked how the affair ended. "Why," said he, "I was a
fierce fellow, and pretended to be very angry; and Thomas was a
good-natured fellow, and pretended to be very sorry; so THERE the matter
ended. I believe the dog loves me dearly. Mr. Thrale," turning to my
husband, "what shall you and I do that is good for Tom Davies? We will do
something for him, to be sure."

Of Pope as a writer he had the highest opinion, and once when a lady at our
house talked of his preface to Shakespeare as superior to Pope's, "I fear
not, madam," said he, "the little fellow has done wonders." His superior
reverence of Dryden, notwithstanding, still appeared in his talk as in his
writings; and when some one mentioned the ridicule thrown on him in the
'Rehearsal,' as having hurt his general character as an author, "On the
contrary," says Mr. Johnson, "the greatness of Dryden's reputation is now
the only principle of vitality which keeps the Duke of Buckingham's play
from putrefaction."

It was not very easy, however, for people not quite intimate with Dr.
Johnson to get exactly his opinion of a writer's merit, as he would now and
then divert himself by confounding those who thought themselves obliged to
say to-morrow what he had said yesterday; and even Garrick, who ought to
have been better acquainted with his tricks, professed himself mortified
that one time when he was extolling Dryden in a rapture that I suppose
disgusted his friend, Mr. Johnson suddenly challenged him to produce twenty
lines in a series that would not disgrace the poet and his admirer.
Garrick produced a passage that he had once heard the Doctor commend, in
which he NOW found, if I remember rightly, sixteen faults, and made Garrick
look silly at his own table. When I told Mr. Johnson the story, "Why, what
a monkey was David now," says he, "to tell of his own disgrace!" And
in the course of that hour's chat he told me how he used to tease Garrick
by commendations of the tomb-scene in Congreve's 'Mourning Bride,'
protesting, that Shakespeare had in the same line of excellence nothing as
good. "All which is strictly TRUE," said he; "but that is no reason for
supposing Congreve is to stand in competition with Shakespeare: these
fellows know not how to blame, nor how to commend." I forced him one day,
in a similar humour, to prefer Young's description of "Night" to the so
much admired ones of Dryden and Shakespeare, as more forcible and more
general. Every reader is not either a lover or a tyrant, but every reader
is interested when he hears that

"Creation sleeps; 'tis as the general pulse
Of life stood still, and nature made a pause;
An awful pause--prophetic of its end."

"This," said he, "is true; but remember that, taking the compositions of
Young in general, they are but like bright stepping-stones over a miry
road. Young froths and foams, and bubbles sometimes very vigorously; but
we must not compare the noise made by your tea-kettle here with the roaring
of the ocean."

Somebody was praising Corneille one day in opposition to Shakespeare.
"Corneille is to Shakespeare," replied Mr. Johnson, "as a clipped hedge is
to a forest." When we talked of Steele's Essays, "They are too thin," says
our critic, "for an Englishman's taste: mere superficial observations on
life and manners, without erudition enough to make them keep, like the
light French wines, which turn sour with standing awhile for want of BODY,
as we call it."

Of a much-admired poem, when extolled as beautiful, he replied, "That it
had indeed the beauty of a bubble. The colours are gay," said he, "but the
substance slight." Of James Harris's Dedication to his "Hermes," I have
heard him observe that, though but fourteen lines long, there were six
grammatical faults in it. A friend was praising the style of Dr. Swift;
Mr. Johnson did not find himself in the humour to agree with him: the
critic was driven from one of his performances to the other. At length,
"You MUST allow me," said the gentleman, "that there are STRONG FACTS in
the account of 'The Four Last Years of Queen Anne.'" "Yes, surely, sir,"
replies Johnson, "and so there are in the Ordinary of Newgate's account."
This was like the story which Mr. Murphy tells, and Johnson always
acknowledged: how Mr. Rose of Hammersmith, contending for the preference
of Scotch writers over the English, after having set up his authors like
ninepins, while the Doctor kept bowling them down again; at last, to make
sure of victory, he named Ferguson upon "Civil Society," and praised the
book for being written in a NEW manner. "I do not," says Johnson,
"perceive the value of this new manner; it is only like Buckinger, who had
no hands, and so wrote with his feet." Of a modern Martial, when it came
out: "There are in these verses," says Dr. Johnson, "too much folly for
madness, I think, and too much madness for folly." If, however, Mr.
Johnson lamented that the nearer he approached to his own times, the more
enemies he should make, by telling biographical truths in his "Lives of the
Later Poets," what may I not apprehend, who, if I relate anecdotes of Mr.
Johnson, am obliged to repeat expressions of severity, and sentences of
contempt? Let me at least soften them a little by saying that he did not
hate the persons he treated with roughness, or despise them whom he drove
from him by apparent scorn. He really loved and respected many whom he
would not suffer to love him. And when he related to me a short dialogue
that passed between himself and a writer of the first eminence in the
world, when he was in Scotland, I was shocked to think how he must have
disgusted him. "Dr. ---- asked me," said he, "why I did not join in their
public worship when among them? for," said he, "I went to your churches
often when in England." "So," replied Johnson, "I have read that the
Siamese sent ambassadors to Louis Quatorze, but I never heard that the King
of France thought it worth his while to send ambassadors from his court to
that of SIAM." He was no gentler with myself, or those for whom I had the
greatest regard. When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin killed
in America, "Prithee, my dear," said he, "have done with canting. How
would the world be worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at
once spitted like larks, and roasted for Presto's supper?" Presto was the
dog that lay under the table while we talked. When we went into Wales
together, and spent some time at Sir Robert Cotton's, at Lleweny, one day
at dinner I meant to please Mr. Johnson particularly with a dish of very
young peas. "Are not they charming?" said I to him, while he was eating
them. "Perhaps," said he, "they would be so--to a PIG."
I only instance these replies, to excuse my mentioning those he made to

When a well-known author published his poems in the year 1777: "Such a
one's verses are come out," said I. "Yes," replied Johnson, "and this
frost has struck them in again. Here are some lines I have written to
ridicule them; but remember that I love the fellow dearly now, for all I
laugh at him:--

"'Wheresoe'er I turn my view,
All is strange, yet nothing new;
Endless labour all along,
Endless labour to be wrong;
Phrase that Time has flung away;
Uncouth words in disarray,
Tricked in antique ruff and bonnet,
Ode, and elegy, and sonnet.'"

When he parodied the verses of another eminent writer, it was done with
more provocation, I believe, and with some merry malice. A serious
translation of the same lines, which I think are from Euripides, may be
found in Burney's "History of Music." Here are the burlesque ones:--

"Err shall they not, who resolute explore
Time's gloomy backward with judicious eyes;
And scanning right the practices of yore,
Shall deem our hoar progenitors unwise.

"They to the dome where smoke with curling play
Announced the dinner to the regions round,
Summoned the singer blithe, and harper gay,
And aided wine with dulcet streaming sound.

"The better use of notes, or sweet or shrill,
By quivering string, or modulated wind;
Trumpet or lyre--to their harsh bosoms chill,
Admission ne'er had sought, or could not find.

"Oh! send them to the sullen mansions dun,
Her baleful eyes where Sorrow rolls around;
Where gloom-enamoured Mischief loves to dwell,
And Murder, all blood-boltered, schemes the wound.

"When cates luxuriant pile the spacious dish,
And purple nectar glads the festive hour;
The guest, without a want, without a wish,
Can yield no room to Music's soothing power."

Some of the old legendary stories put in verse by modern writers provoked
him to caricature them thus one day at Streatham; but they are already well
known, I am sure.

"The tender infant, meek and mild,
Fell down upon the stone;
The nurse took up the squealing child,
But still the child squealed on."

A famous ballad also, beginning 'Rio verde, Rio verde,' when I commended
the translation of it, he said he could do it better himself--as thus:

"Glassy water, glassy water,
Down whose current clear and strong,
Chiefs confused in mutual slaughter,
Moor and Christian roll along."

"But, sir," said I, "this is not ridiculous at all." "Why, no," replied
he, "why should I always write ridiculously? Perhaps because I made these
verses to imitate such a one," naming him:

"'Hermit hoar, in solemn cell
Wearing out life's evening grey;
Strike thy bosom, sage! and tell
What is bliss, and which the way?'

"Thus I spoke, and speaking sighed,
Scarce repressed the starting tear,
When the hoary sage replied,
'Come, my lad, and drink some beer.'"

I could give another comical instance of caricatura imitation.
Recollecting some day, when praising these verses of Lopez de Vega--

"Se acquien los leones vence,
Vence una muger hermosa,
O el de flaco averguence,
O ella di ser mas furiosa,"

more than he thought they deserved, Mr. Johnson instantly observed "that
they were founded on a trivial conceit, and that conceit ill-explained and
ill-expressed besides. The lady, we all know, does not conquer in the same
manner as the lion does. 'Tis a mere play of words," added he, "and you
might as well say that

"'If the man who turnips cries,
Cry not when his father dies,
'Tis a proof that he had rather
Have a turnip than his father.'"

And this humour is of the same sort with which he answered the friend who
commended the following line:--

"Who rules o'er freemen should himself be free."

"To be sure," said Dr. Johnson--

"'Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.'"

This readiness of finding a parallel, or making one, was shown by him
perpetually in the course of conversation. When the French verses of a
certain pantomime were quoted thus:

"Je suis Cassandre descendue des cieux,
Pour vous faire entendre, mesdames et messieurs,
Que je suis Cassandre descendue des cieux,"

he cried out gaily and suddenly, almost in a moment--

"I am Cassandra come down from the sky,
To tell each bystander what none can deny,
That I am Cassandra come down from the sky."

The pretty Italian verses, too, at the end of Baretti's book called "Easy
Phraseology," he did all' improviso, in the same manner:

"Viva! viva la padrona!
Tutta bella, e tutta buona,
La padrona e un angiolella
Tutta buona e tutta bella;
Tutta bella e tutta buona;
Viva! viva la padrona!"

"Long may live my lovely Hetty!
Always young and always pretty,
Always pretty, always young,
Live my lovely Hetty long!
Always young and always pretty!
Long may live my lovely Hetty!"

The famous distich, too, of an Italian improvisatore, when the Duke of
Modena ran away from the comet in the year 1742 or 1743:

"Se al venir vestro i principi sen' vanno,
Deh venga ogni di ---- durate un anno;"

"which," said he, "would do just as well in our language thus:

"'If at your coming princes disappear,
Comets! come every day--and stay a year.'"

When some one in company commended the verses of M. de Benserade a son Lit:

"Theatre des ris et des pleurs,
Lit! on je nais, et ou je meurs,
Tu nous fais voir comment voisins
Sont nos plaisirs et nos chagrins."

To which he replied without hesitating--

"'In bed we laugh, in bed we cry,
And born in bed, in bed we die;
The near approach a bed may show
Of human bliss to human woe.'"

The inscription on the collar of Sir Joseph Banks's goat, which had been on
two of his adventurous expeditions with him, and was then, by the humanity
of her amiable master, turned out to graze in Kent as a recompense for her
utility and faithful service, was given me by Johnson in the year 1777, I
think, and I have never yet seen it printed:

"Perpetui, ambita, bis terra, premia lactis,
Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis."

The epigram written at Lord Anson's house many years ago, "where," says Mr.
Johnson, "I was well received and kindly treated, and with the true
gratitude of a wit ridiculed the master of the house before I had left it
an hour," has been falsely printed in many papers since his death. I wrote
it down from his own lips one evening in August, 1772, not neglecting the
little preface accusing himself of making so graceless a return for the
civilities shown him. He had, among other elegancies about the park and
gardens, been made to observe a temple to the winds, when this thought
naturally presented itself TO A WIT:

"Gratum animum laudo; Qui debuit omnia ventis,
Quam bene ventorum, surgere templa jubet!"

A translation of Dryden's epigram, too, I used to fancy I had to myself:

"Quos laudet vates, Graius, Romanus, et Anglus,
Tres tria temporibus secla dedere suis:
Sublime ingenium, Graius,--Romanus habebat
Carmen grande sonans, Anglus utrumque tulit.
Nil majus natura capit: clarare priores
Quae potuere duos, tertius unus habet:"

from the famous lines written under Milton's picture:

"Three poets in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn;
The first in loftiness of thought surpassed,
The next in majesty; in both the last.
The force of Nature could no further go,
To make a third she joined the former two."

One evening in the oratorio season of the year 1771 Mr. Johnson went with
me to Covent Garden Theatre, and though he was for the most part an
exceedingly bad playhouse companion, as his person drew people's eyes upon
the box, and the loudness of his voice made it difficult for me to hear
anybody but himself, he sat surprisingly quiet, and I flattered myself that
he was listening to the music. When we were got home, however, he repeated
these verses, which he said he had made at the oratorio, and he bade me
translate them:


"Tertii verso quater orbe lustri
Quid theatrales tibi crispe pompae!
Quam decet canos male literatos
Sera voluptas!

"Tene mulceri fidibus canoris?
Tene cantorum modulis stupere?
Tene per pictas oculo elegante
Currere formas?

"Inter equales sine felle liber,
Codices veri studiosus inter
Rectius vives, sua quisque carpat
Gaudia gratus.

"Lusibus gaudet puer otiosis
Luxus oblectat juvenem theatri,
At seni fluxo sapienter uti
Tempore restat."

I gave him the following lines in imitation, which he liked well enough, I

"When threescore years have chilled thee quite,
Still can theatric scenes delight?
Ill suits this place with learned wight,
May Bates or Coulson cry.

"The scholar's pride can Brent disarm?
His heart can soft Guadagni warm?
Or scenes with sweet delusion charm
The climacteric eye?

"The social club, the lonely tower,
Far better suit thy midnight hour;
Let each according to his power
In worth or wisdom shine!

"And while play pleases idle boys,
And wanton mirth fond youth employs,
To fix the soul, and free from toys,
That useful task be thine."

The copy of verses in Latin hexameters, as well as I remember, which he
wrote to Dr. Lawrence, I forgot to keep a copy of; and he obliged me to
resign his translation of the song beginning, "Busy, curious, thirsty fly,"
for him to give Mr. Langton, with a promise NOT to retain a copy. I
concluded he knew why, so never inquired the reason. He had the greatest
possible value for Mr. Langton, of Langton Hall, Lincoln, of whose virtue
and learning he delighted to talk in very exalted terms; and poor Dr.
Lawrence had long been his friend and confident. The conversation I saw
them hold together in Essex Street one day, in the year 1781 or 1782, was a
melancholy one, and made a singular impression on my mind. He was himself
exceedingly ill, and I accompanied him thither for advice. The physician
was, however, in some respects more to be pitied than the patient. Johnson
was panting under an asthma and dropsy, but Lawrence had been brought home
that very morning struck with the palsy, from which he had, two hours
before we came, strove to awaken himself by blisters. They were both deaf,
and scarce able to speak besides: one from difficulty of breathing, the
other from paralytic debility. To give and receive medical counsel,
therefore, they fairly sat down on each side a table in the doctor's gloomy
apartment, adorned with skeletons, preserved monsters, etc., and agreed to
write Latin billets to each other. Such a scene did I never see. "You,"
said Johnson, "are timide and gelide," finding that his friend had
prescribed palliative, not drastic, remedies. "It is not ME," replies poor
Lawrence, in an interrupted voice, "'tis nature that is gelide and timide."
In fact, he lived but few months after, I believe, and retained his
faculties still a shorter time. He was a man of strict piety and profound
learning, but little skilled in the knowledge of life or manners, and died
without having ever enjoyed the reputation he so justly

Mr. Johnson's health had been always extremely bad since I first knew him,
and his over-anxious care to retain without blemish the perfect sanity of
his mind contributed much to disturb it. He had studied medicine
diligently in all its branches, but had given particular attention to the
diseases of the imagination, which he watched in himself with a solicitude
destructive of his own peace, and intolerable to those he trusted. Dr.
Lawrence told him one day that if he would come and beat him once a week he
would bear it, but to hear his complaints was more than MAN could support.
'Twas therefore that he tried, I suppose, and in eighteen years contrived
to weary the patience of a WOMAN. When Mr. Johnson felt his fancy, or
fancied he felt it, disordered, his constant recurrence was to the study of
arithmetic, and one day that he was totally confined to his chamber, and I
inquired what he had been doing to divert himself, he showed me a
calculation which I could scarce be made to understand, so vast was the
plan of it, and so very intricate were the figures: no other, indeed, than
that the national debt, computing it at one hundred and eighty millions
sterling, would, if converted into silver, serve to make a meridian of that
metal, I forgot how broad, for the globe of the whole earth, the real
GLOBE. On a similar occasion I asked him, knowing what subject he would
like best to talk upon, how his opinion stood towards the question between
Paschal and Soame Jennings about number and numeration? as the French
philosopher observes that infinity, though on all sides astonishing,
appears most so when the idea is connected with the idea of number; for the
notion of infinite number--and infinite number we know there is--stretches
one's capacity still more than the idea of infinite space. "Such a notion,
indeed," adds he, "can scarcely find room in the human mind." Our English
author, on the other hand, exclaims, let no man give himself leave to talk
about infinite number, for infinite number is a contradiction in terms;
whatever is once numbered, we all see, cannot be infinite. "I think," said
Mr. Johnson, after a pause, "we must settle the matter thus: numeration is
certainly infinite, for eternity might be employed in adding unit to unit;
but every number is in itself finite, as the possibility of doubling it
easily proves; besides, stop at what point you will, you find yourself as
far from infinitude as ever." These passages I wrote down as soon as I had
heard them, and repent that I did not take the same method with a
dissertation he made one other day that he was very ill, concerning the
peculiar properties of the number sixteen, which I afterwards tried, but in
vain, to make him repeat.

As ethics or figures, or metaphysical reasoning, was the sort of talk he
most delighted in, so no kind of conversation pleased him less, I think,
than when the subject was historical fact or general polity. "What shall
we learn from THAT stuff?" said he. "Let us not fancy, like Swift, that we
are exalting a woman's character by telling how she

"'Could name the ancient heroes round,
Explain for what they were renowned,' etc."

I must not, however, lead my readers to suppose that he meant to reserve
such talk for men's company as a proof of pre-eminence. "He never," as he
expressed it, "desired to hear of the Punic War while he lived; such
conversation was lost time," he said, "and carried one away from common
life, leaving no ideas behind which could serve LIVING WIGHT as warning or

"How I should act is not the case,
But how would Brutus in my place."

"And now," cries Mr. Johnson, laughing with obstreperous violence, "if
these two foolish lines can be equalled in folly, except by the two
succeeding ones--show them me."

I asked him once concerning the conversation powers of a gentleman with
whom I was myself unacquainted. "He talked to me at club one day," replies
our Doctor,
"concerning Catiline's conspiracy, so I withdrew my attention, and thought
about Tom Thumb."

Modern politics fared no better. I was one time extolling the character of
a statesman, and expatiating on the skill required to direct the different
currents, reconcile the jarring interests, etc. "Thus," replies he, "a
mill is a complicated piece of mechanism enough, but the water is no part
of the workmanship." On another occasion, when some one lamented the
weakness of a then present minister, and complained that he was dull and
tardy, and knew little of affairs: "You may as well complain, sir," says
Johnson, "that the accounts of time are kept by the clock; for he certainly
does stand still upon the stair-head--and we all know that he is no great
chronologer." In the year 1777, or thereabouts, when all the talk was of
an invasion, he said most pathetically one afternoon, "Alas! alas! how this
unmeaning stuff spoils all my comfort in my friends' conversation! Will
the people have done with it; and shall I never hear a sentence again
without the FRENCH in it? Here is no invasion coming, and you KNOW there
is none. Let the vexatious and frivolous talk alone, or suffer it at least
to teach you ONE truth; and learn by this perpetual echo of even
unapprehended distress how historians magnify events expected or calamities
endured; when you know they are at this very moment collecting all the big
words they can find, in which to describe a consternation never felt, for a
misfortune which never happened. Among all your lamentations, who eats the
less--who sleeps the worse, for one general's ill-success, or another's
capitulation? OH, PRAY let us hear no more of it!" No man, however, was
more zealously attached to his party; he not only loved a Tory himself, but
he loved a man the better if he heard he hated a Whig. "Dear Bathurst,"
said he to me one day, "was a man to my very heart's content: he hated a
fool, and he hated a rogue, and he hated a WHIG; he was a very good HATER."

Some one mentioned a gentleman of that party for having behaved oddly on an
occasion where faction was not concerned: "Is he not a citizen of London,
a native of North America, and a Whig?" says Johnson. "Let him be absurd,
I beg you of you; when a monkey is TOO like a man, it shocks one."

Severity towards the poor was, in Dr. Johnson's opinion (as is visible in
his "Life of Addison" particularly), an undoubted and constant attendant or
consequence upon Whiggism; and he was not contented with giving them
relief, he wished to add also indulgence. He loved the poor as I never yet
saw any one else do, with an earnest desire to make them happy. "What
signifies," says some one, "giving halfpence to common beggars? they only
lay it out in gin or tobacco." "And why should they be denied such
sweeteners of their existence?" says Johnson; "it is surely very savage to
refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our
own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow
without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer,
and are not ashamed to show even visible displeasure if ever the bitter
taste is taken from their mouths." In consequence of these principles he
nursed whole nests of people in his house, where the lame, the blind, the
sick, and the sorrowful found a sure retreat from all the evils whence his
little income could secure them: and commonly spending the middle of the
week at our house, he kept his numerous family in Fleet Street upon a
settled allowance; but returned to them every Saturday, to give them three
good dinners, and his company, before he came back to us on the Monday
night--treating them with the same, or perhaps more ceremonious civility
than he would have done by as many people of fashion--making the Holy
Scriptures thus the rule of his conduct, and only expecting salvation as he
was able to obey its precepts.

While Dr. Johnson possessed, however, the strongest compassion for poverty
or illness, he did not even pretend to feel for those who lamented the loss
of a child, a parent, or a friend. "These are the distresses of
sentiment," he would reply, "which a man who is really to be pitied has no
leisure to feel. The sight of people who want food and raiment is so
common in great cities, that a surly fellow like me has no compassion to
spare for wounds given only to vanity or softness." No man, therefore, who
smarted from the ingratitude of his friends, found any sympathy from our
philosopher. "Let him do good on higher motives next time," would be the
answer; "he will then be sure of his reward." It is easy to observe that
the justice of such sentences made them offensive; but we must be careful
how we condemn a man for saying what we know to be true, only because it IS
so. I hope that the reason our hearts rebelled a little against his
severity was chiefly because it came from a living mouth. Books were
invented to take off the odium of immediate superiority, and soften the
rigour of duties prescribed by the teachers and censors of human kind--
setting at least those who are acknowledged wiser than ourselves at a
distance. When we recollect, however, that for this very reason THEY are
seldom consulted and little obeyed, how much cause shall his contemporaries
have to rejoice that their living Johnson forced them to feel there proofs
due to vice and folly, while Seneca and Tillotson were no longer able to
make impression--except on our shelves! Few things, indeed, which pass
well enough with others would do with him: he had been a great reader of
Mandeville, and was ever on the watch to spy out those stains of original
corruption so easily discovered by a penetrating observer even in the
purest minds. I mentioned an event, which if it had happened would greatly
have injured Mr. Thrale and his family--"and then, dear sir," said I, "how
sorry you would have been!" "I HOPE," replied he, after a long pause, "I
should have been VERY sorry; but remember Rochefoucault's maxim."

"I would rather," answered I, "remember Prior's verses, and ask--

'What need of books these truths to tell,
Which folks perceive that cannot spell?
And must we spectacles apply,
To see what hurts our naked eye?'

Will ANYBODY'S mind bear this eternal microscope that you place upon your
own so?" "I never," replied he, "saw one that WOULD, except that of my
dear Miss Reynolds--and hers is very near to purity itself." Of slighter
evils, and friends more distant than our own household, he spoke less
cautiously. An acquaintance lost the almost certain hope of a good estate
that had been long expected. "Such a one will grieve," said I, "at her
friend's disappointment." "She will suffer as much, perhaps," said he, "as
your horse did when your cow miscarried." I professed myself sincerely
grieved when accumulated distresses crushed Sir George Colebrook's family;
and I was so. "Your own prosperity," said he, "may possibly have so far
increased the natural tenderness of your heart, that for aught I know you
MAY be a LITTLE SORRY; but it is sufficient for a plain man if he does not
laugh when he sees a fine new house tumble down all on a sudden, and a snug
cottage stand by ready to receive the owner, whose birth entitled him to
nothing better, and whose limbs are left him to go to work again with."

I tried to tell him in jest that his morality was easily contented, and
when I have said something as if the wickedness of the world gave me
concern, he would cry out aloud against canting, and protest that he
thought there was very little gross wickedness in the world, and still less
of extraordinary virtue. Nothing, indeed, more surely disgusted Dr.
Johnson than hyperbole; he loved not to be told of sallies of excellence,
which he said were seldom valuable, and seldom true. "Heroic virtues,"
said he, "are the bons mots of life; they do not appear often, and when
they do appear are too much prized, I think, like the aloe-tree, which
shoots and flowers once in a hundred years. But life is made up of little
things; and that character is the best which does little but repeated acts
of beneficence; as that conversation is the best which consists in elegant
and pleasing thoughts expressed in natural and pleasing terms. With regard
to my own notions of moral virtue," continued he, "I hope I have not lost
my sensibility of wrong; but I hope, likewise, that I have lived long
enough in the world to prevent me from expecting to find any action of
which both the original motive and all the parts were good."

The piety of Dr. Johnson was exemplary and edifying; he was punctiliously
exact to perform every public duty enjoined by the Church, and his spirit
of devotion had an energy that affected all who ever saw him pray in
private. The coldest and most languid hearer of the Word must have felt
themselves animated by his manner of reading the Holy Scriptures; and to
pray by his sick-bed required strength of body as well as of mind, so
vehement were his manners, and his tones of voice so pathetic. I have many
times made it my request to Heaven that I might be spared the sight of his
death; and I was spared it.

Mr. Johnson, though in general a gross feeder, kept fast in Lent,
particularly the Holy Week, with a rigour very dangerous to his general
health; but though he had left off wine (for religious motives, as I always
believed, though he did not own it), yet he did not hold the commutation of
offences by voluntary penance, or encourage others to practise severity
upon themselves. He even once said "that he thought it an error to
endeavour at pleasing God by taking the rod of reproof out of His hands."
And when we talked of convents, and the hardships suffered in them:
"Remember always," said he, "that a convent is an idle place, and where
there is nothing to be DONE something must be ENDURED: mustard has a bad
taste per se, you may observe, but very insipid food cannot be eaten
without it."

His respect, however, for places of religious retirement was carried to the
greatest degree of earthly veneration; the Benedictine convent at Paris
paid him all possible honours in return, and the Prior and he parted with
tears of tenderness. Two of that college being sent to England on the
mission some years after, spent much of their time with him at Bolt Court,
I know, and he was ever earnest to retain their friendship; but though
beloved by all his Roman Catholic acquaintance, particularly Dr. Nugent,
for whose esteem he had a singular value, yet was Mr. Johnson a most
unshaken Church of England man; and I think, or at least I once DID think,
that a letter written by him to Mr. Barnard, the King's Librarian, when he
was in Italy collecting books, contained some very particular advice to his
friend to be on his guard against the seductions of the Church of Rome.

The settled aversion Dr. Johnson felt towards an infidel he expressed to
all ranks, and at all times, without the smallest reserve; for though on
common occasions he paid great deference to birth or title, yet his regard
for truth and virtue never gave way to meaner considerations. We talked of
a dead wit one evening, and somebody praised him. "Let us never praise
talents so ill employed, sir; we foul our mouths by commending such
infidels," said he. "Allow him the lumieres at least," entreated one of
the company. "I do allow him, sir," replied Johnson, "just enough to light
him to hell." Of a Jamaica gentleman, then lately dead: "He will not,
whither he is now gone," said Johnson, "find much difference, I believe,
either in the climate or the company." The Abbe Reynal probably remembers
that, being at the house of a common friend in London, the master of it
approached Johnson with that gentleman so much celebrated in his hand, and
this speech in his mouth: "Will you permit me, sir, to present to you the
Abbe Reynal?" "NO, SIR," replied the Doctor very loud, and suddenly turned
away from them both.

Though Mr. Johnson had but little reverence either for talents or fortune
when he found them unsupported by virtue, yet it was sufficient to tell him
a man was very pious, or very charitable, and he would at least BEGIN with
him on good terms, however the conversation might end. He would sometimes,
too, good-naturedly enter into a long chat for the instruction or
entertainment of people he despised. I perfectly recollect his
condescending to delight my daughter's dancing-master with a long argument
about HIS art, which the man protested, at the close of the discourse, the
Doctor knew more of than himself, who remained astonished, enlightened, and
amused by the talk of a person little likely to make a good disquisition
upon dancing. I have sometimes, indeed, been rather pleased than vexed
when Mr. Johnson has given a rough answer to a man who perhaps deserved one
only half as rough, because I knew he would repent of his hasty reproof,
and make us all amends by some conversation at once instructive and
entertaining, as in the following cases. A young fellow asked him abruptly
one day, "Pray, sir, what and where is Palmyra? I heard somebody talk last
night of the ruins of Palmyra." "'Tis a hill in Ireland," replies Johnson,
"with palms growing on the top, and a bog at the bottom, and so they call
it PALM-MIRA." Seeing, however, that the lad thought him serious, and
thanked him for the information, he undeceived him very gently indeed:
told him the history, geography, and chronology of Tadmor in the
wilderness, with every incident that literature could furnish, I think, or
eloquence express, from the building of Solomon's palace to the voyage of
Dawkins and Wood.

On another occasion, when he was musing over the fire in our drawing-room
at Streatham, a young gentleman called to him suddenly, and I suppose he
thought disrespectfully, in these words: "Mr. Johnson, would you advise me
to marry?" "I would advise no man to marry, sir," returns for answer in a
very angry tone Dr. Johnson, "who is not likely to propagate
understanding," and so left the room. Our companion looked confounded, and
I believe had scarce recovered the consciousness of his own existence, when
Johnson came back, and drawing his chair among us, with altered looks and a
softened voice, joined in the general chat, insensibly led the conversation
to the subject of marriage, where he laid himself out in a dissertation so
useful, so elegant, so founded on the true knowledge
of human life, and so adorned with beauty of sentiment, that no one ever
recollected the offence, except to rejoice in its consequences. He
repented just as certainly, however, if he had been led to praise any
person or thing by accident more than he thought it deserved; and was on
such occasions comically earnest to destroy the praise or pleasure he had
unintentionally given.

Sir Joshua Reynolds mentioned some picture as excellent. "It has often
grieved me, sir," said Mr. Johnson, "to see so much mind as the science of
painting requires laid out upon such perishable materials. Why do not you
oftener make use of copper? I could wish your superiority in the art you
profess to be preserved in stuff more durable than canvas." Sir Joshua
urged the difficulty of procuring a plate large enough for historical
subjects, and was going to raise further observations. "What foppish
obstacles are these!" exclaims on a sudden Dr. Johnson. "Here is Thrale
has a thousand tun of copper; you may paint it all round if you will, I
suppose; it will serve him to brew in afterwards. Will it not, sir?" (to
my husband, who sat by). Indeed, Dr. Johnson's utter scorn of painting was
such that I have heard him say that he should sit very quietly in a room
hung round with the works of the greatest masters, and never feel the
slightest disposition to turn them if their backs were outermost, unless it
might be for the sake of telling Sir Joshua that he HAD turned them. Such
speeches may appear offensive to many, but those who knew he was too blind
to discern the perfections of an art which applies itself immediately to
our eyesight must acknowledge he was not in the wrong.

He delighted no more in music than in painting; he was almost as deaf as he
was blind; travelling with Dr. Johnson was for these reasons tiresome
enough. Mr. Thrale loved prospects, and was mortified that his friend
could not enjoy the sight of those different dispositions of wood and
water, hill and valley, that travelling through England and France affords
a man. But when he wished to point them out to his companion: "Never heed
such nonsense," would be the reply; "a blade of grass is always a blade of
grass, whether in one country or another. Let us, if we DO talk, talk
about something; men and women are my subjects of inquiry; let us see how
these differ from those we have left behind."

When we were at Rouen together, he took a great fancy to the Abbe Roffette,
with whom he conversed about the destruction of the order of Jesuits, and
condemned it loudly as a blow to the general power of the Church, and
likely to be followed with many and dangerous innovations, which might at
length become fatal to religion itself, and shake even the foundation of
Christianity. The gentleman seemed to wonder and delight in his
conversation. The talk was all in Latin, which both spoke fluently, and
Mr. Johnson pronounced a long eulogium upon Milton with so much ardour,
eloquence, and ingenuity, that the Abbe rose from his seat and embraced
him. My husband, seeing them apparently so charmed with the company of
each other, politely invited the Abbe to England, intending to oblige his
friend, who, instead of thanking, reprimanded him severely before the man
for such a sudden burst of tenderness towards a person he could know
nothing at all of, and thus put a sudden finish to all his own and Mr.
Thrale's entertainment from the company of the Abbe Roffette.

When at Versailles the people showed us the theatre. As we stood on the
stage looking at some machinery for playhouse purposes: "Now we are here,
what shall we act, Mr. Johnson--The Englishman at Paris?" "No, no,"
replied he, "we will try to act Harry the Fifth." His dislike to the
French was well known to both nations, I believe; but he applauded the
number of their books and the graces of their style. "They have few
sentiments," said he, "but they express them neatly; they have little meat,
too, but they dress it well." Johnson's own notions about eating, however,
were nothing less than delicate: a leg of pork boiled till it dropped from
the bone, a veal pie with plums and sugar, or the outside cut of a salt
buttock of beef, were his favourite dainties. With regard to drink, his
liking was for the strongest, as it was not the flavour, but the effect, he
sought for, and professed to desire; and when I first knew him, he used to
pour capillaire into his port wine. For the last twelve years, however, he
left off all fermented liquors. To make himself some amends, indeed, he
took his chocolate liberally, pouring in large quantities of cream, or even
melted butter; and was so fond of fruit, that though he usually ate seven
or eight large peaches of a morning before breakfast began, and treated
them with proportionate attention after dinner again, yet I have heard him
protest that he never had quite as much as he wished of wall-fruit, except
once in his life, and that was when we were all together at Ombersley, the
seat of my Lord Sandys. I was saying to a friend one day, that I did not
like goose; "one smells it so while it is roasting," said I. "But you,
madam," replies the Doctor, "have been at all times a fortunate woman,
having always had your hunger so forestalled by indulgence, that you never
experienced the delight of smelling your dinner beforehand." "Which
pleasure," answered I pertly, "is to be enjoyed in perfection by such as
have the happiness to pass through Porridge Island of a morning." "Come,
come," says he, gravely, "let's have no sneering at what is serious to so
many. Hundreds of your fellow-creatures, dear lady, turn another way, that
they may not be tempted by the luxuries of Porridge Island to wish for
gratifications they are not able to obtain. You are certainly not better
than all of THEM; give God thanks that you are happier."

I received on another occasion as just a rebuke from Mr. Johnson, for an
offence of the same nature, and hope I took care never to provoke a third;
for after a very long summer, particularly hot and dry, I was wishing
naturally but thoughtlessly for some rain to lay the dust as we drove along
the Surrey roads. "I cannot bear," replied he, with much asperity and an
altered look, "when I know how many poor families will perish next winter
for want of that bread which the present drought will deny them, to hear
ladies sighing for rain, only that their complexions may not suffer from
the heat, or their clothes be incommoded by the dust. For shame! leave off
such foppish lamentations, and study to relieve those whose distresses are

With advising others to be charitable, however, Dr. Johnson did not content
himself. He gave away all he had, and all he ever had gotten, except the
two thousand pounds he left behind; and the very small portion of his
income which he spent on himself, with all our calculation, we never could
make more than seventy, or at most four-score pounds a year, and he
pretended to allow himself a hundred. He had numberless dependents out of
doors as well as in, who, as he expressed it, "did not like to see him
latterly unless he brought 'em money." For those people he used frequently
to raise contributions on his richer friends; "and this," says he, "is one
of the thousand reasons which ought to restrain a man from drony solitude
and useless retirement. Solitude," added he one day, "is dangerous to
reason, without being favourable to virtue: pleasures of some sort are
necessary to the intellectual as to the corporeal health; and those who
resist gaiety will be likely for the most part to fall a sacrifice to
appetite; for the solicitations of sense are always at hand, and a dram to
a vacant and solitary person is a speedy and seducing relief. Remember,"
concluded he, "that the solitary mortal is certainly luxurious, probably
superstitious, and possibly mad: the mind stagnates for want of
employment, grows morbid, and is extinguished like a candle in foul air."
It was on this principle that Johnson encouraged parents to carry their
daughters early and much into company: "for what harm can be done before
so many witnesses? Solitude is the surest nurse of all prurient passions,
and a girl in the hurry of preparation, or tumult of gaiety, has neither
inclination nor leisure to let tender expressions soften or sink into her
heart. The ball, the show, are not the dangerous places: no, it is the
private friend, the kind consoler, the companion of the easy, vacant hour,
whose compliance with her opinions can flatter her vanity, and whose
conversation can just soothe, without ever stretching her mind, that is the
lover to be feared. He who buzzes in her ear at court or at the opera must
be contented to buzz in vain." These notions Dr. Johnson carried so very
far, that I have heard him say, "If you shut up any man with any woman, so
as to make them derive their whole pleasure from each other, they would
inevitably fall in love, as it is called, with each other; but at six
months' end, if you would throw them both into public life, where they
might change partners at pleasure, each would soon forget that fondness
which mutual dependence and the paucity of general amusement alone had
caused, and each would separately feel delighted by their release."

In these opinions Rousseau apparently concurs with him exactly; and Mr.
Whitehead's poem, called "Variety," is written solely to elucidate this
simple proposition. Prior likewise advises the husband to send his wife
abroad, and let her see the world as it really stands:--

"Powder, and pocket-glass, and beau."

Mr. Johnson was indeed unjustly supposed to be a lover of singularity. Few
people had a more settled reverence for the world than he, or was less
captivated by new modes of behaviour introduced, or innovations on the
long-received customs of common life. He hated the way of leaving a
company without taking notice to the lady of the house that he was going,
and did not much like any of the contrivances by which ease had lately been
introduced into society instead of ceremony, which had more of his
approbation. Cards, dress, and dancing, however, all found their advocate
in Dr. Johnson, who inculcated, upon principle, the cultivation of those
arts which many a moralist thinks himself bound to reject, and many a
Christian holds unfit to be practised. "No person," said he one day, "goes
under-dressed till he thinks himself of consequence enough to forbear
carrying the badge of his rank upon his back." And in answer to the
arguments urged by Puritans, Quakers, etc., against showy decorations of
the human figure, I once heard him exclaim, "Oh, let us not be found, when
our Master calls us, ripping the lace off our waistcoats, but the spirit of
contention from our souls and tongues! Let us all conform in outward
customs, which are of no consequence, to the manners of those whom we live
among, and despise such paltry distinctions. Alas, sir!" continued he, "a
man who cannot get to heaven in a green coat, will not find his way thither
sooner in a grey one." On an occasion of less consequence, when he turned
his back on Lord Bolingbroke in the rooms at Brighthelmstone, he made this
excuse, "I am not obliged, sir," said he to Mr. Thrale, who stood fretting,
"to find reasons for respecting the rank of him who will not condescend to
declare it by his dress or some other visible mark. What are stars and
other signs of superiority made for?"

The next evening, however, he made us comical amends, by sitting by the
same nobleman, and haranguing very loudly about the nature and use and
abuse of divorces. Many people gathered round them to hear what was said,
and when my husband called him away, and told him to whom he had been
talking, received an answer which I will not write down.

Though no man, perhaps, made such rough replies as Dr. Johnson, yet nobody
had a more just aversion to general satire; he always hated and censured
Swift for his unprovoked bitterness against the professors of medicine, and
used to challenge his friends, when they lamented the exorbitancy of
physicians' fees, to produce him one instance of an estate raised by physic
in England. When an acquaintance, too, was one day exclaiming against the
tediousness of the law and its partiality: "Let us hear, sir," said
Johnson, "no general abuse; the law is the last result of human wisdom
acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public."

As the mind of Dr. Johnson was greatly expanded, so his first care was for
general, not particular or petty morality; and those teachers had more of
his blame than praise, I think, who seek to oppress life with unnecessary
scruples. "Scruples would," as he observed, "certainly make men miserable,
and seldom make them good. Let us ever," he said, "studiously fly from
those instructors against whom our Saviour denounces heavy judgments, for
having bound up burdens grievous to be borne, and laid them on the
shoulders of mortal men." No one had, however, higher notions of the hard
task of true Christianity than Johnson, whose daily terror lest he had not
done enough, originated in piety, but ended in little less than disease.
Reasonable with regard to others, he had formed vain hopes of performing
impossibilities himself; and finding his good works ever below his desires
and intent, filled his imagination with fears that he should never obtain
forgiveness for omissions of duty and criminal waste of time. These ideas
kept him in constant anxiety concerning his salvation; and the vehement
petitions he perpetually made for a longer continuance on earth, were
doubtless the cause of his so prolonged existence: for when I carried Dr.
Pepys to him in the year 1782, it appeared wholly impossible for any skill
of the physician or any strength of the patient to save him. He was saved
that time, however, by Sir Lucas's prescriptions; and less skill on one
side, or less strength on the other, I am morally certain, would not have
been enough. He had, however, possessed an athletic constitution, as he
said the man who dipped people in the sea at Brighthelmstone acknowledged;
for seeing Mr. Johnson swim, in the year 1766, "Why, sir," says the dipper,
"you must have been a stout-hearted gentleman forty years ago."

Mr. Thrale and he used to laugh about that story very often: but Garrick
told a better, for he said that in their young days, when some strolling
players came to Lichfield, our friend had fixed his place upon the stage,
and got himself a chair accordingly; which leaving for a few minutes, he
found a man in it at his return, who refused to give it back at the first
entreaty. Mr. Johnson, however, who did not think it worth his while to
make a second, took chair and man and all together, and threw them all at
once into the pit. I asked the Doctor if this was a fact. "Garrick has
not SPOILED it in the telling," said he, "it is very NEAR true, to be

Mr. Beauclerc, too, related one day how on some occasion he ordered two
large mastiffs into his parlour, to show a friend who was conversant in
canine beauty and excellence how the dogs quarrelled, and fastening on each
other, alarmed all the company except Johnson, who seizing one in one hand
by the cuff of the neck, the other in the other hand, said gravely, "Come,
gentlemen! where's your difficulty? put one dog out at the door, and I
will show this fierce gentleman the way out of the window:" which, lifting
up the mastiff and the sash, he contrived to do very expeditiously, and
much to the satisfaction of the affrighted company. We inquired as to the
truth of this curious recital. "The dogs have been somewhat magnified, I
believe, sir," was the reply: "they were, as I remember, two stout young
pointers; but the story has gained but little."

One reason why Mr. Johnson's memory was so particularly exact, might be
derived from his rigid attention to veracity; being always resolved to
relate every fact as it stood, he looked even on the smaller parts of life
with minute attention, and remembered such passages as escape cursory and
common observers. "A story," says he, "is a specimen of human manners, and
derives its sole value from its truth. When Foote has told me something, I
dismiss it from my mind like a passing shadow: when Reynolds tells me
something, I consider myself as possessed of an idea the more."

Mr. Johnson liked a frolic or a jest well enough, though he had strange
serious rules about it too: and very angry was he if anybody offered to be
merry when he was disposed to be grave. "You have an ill-founded notion,"
said he, "that it is clever to turn matters off with a joke (as the phrase
is); whereas nothing produces enmity so certain as one persons showing a
disposition to be merry when another is inclined to be either serious or

One may gather from this how he felt when his Irish friend Grierson,
hearing him enumerate the qualities necessary to the formation of a poet,
began a comical parody upon his ornamented harangue in praise of a cook,
concluding with this observation, that he who dressed a good dinner was a
more excellent and a more useful member of society than he who wrote a good
poem. "And in this opinion," said Mr. Johnson in reply, "all the dogs in
the town will join you."

Of this Mr. Grierson I have heard him relate many droll stories, much to
his advantage as a wit, together with some facts more difficult to be
accounted for; as avarice never was reckoned among the vices of the
laughing world. But Johnson's various life, and spirit of vigilance to
learn and treasure up every peculiarity of manner, sentiment, or general
conduct, made his company, when he chose to relate anecdotes of people he
had formerly known, exquisitely amusing and comical. It is indeed
inconceivable what strange occurrences he had seen, and what surprising
things he could tell when in a communicative humour. It is by no means my
business to relate memoirs of his acquaintance; but it will serve to show
the character of Johnson himself, when I inform those who never knew him
that no man told a story with so good a grace, or knew so well what would
make an effect upon his auditors. When he raised contributions for some
distressed author, or wit in want, he often made us all more than amends by
diverting descriptions of the lives they were then passing in corners
unseen by anybody but himself; and that odd old surgeon whom he kept in his
house to tend the out-pensioners, and of whom he said most truly and
sublimely that--

"In misery's darkest caverns known,
His useful care was ever nigh,
Where hopeless anguish pours her groan,
And lonely want retires to die."

I have forgotten the year, but it could scarcely I think be later than 1765
or 1766, that he was called abruptly from our house after dinner, and
returning in about three hours, said he had been with an enraged author,
whose landlady pressed him for payment within doors, while the bailiffs
beset him without; that he was drinking himself drunk with Madeira to drown
care, and fretting over a novel which, when finished, was to be his whole
fortune; but he could not get it done for distraction, nor could he step
out of doors to offer it to sale. Mr. Johnson therefore set away the
bottle, and went to the bookseller, recommending the performance, and
desiring some immediate relief; which when he brought back to the writer,
he called the woman of the house directly to partake of punch, and pass
their time in merriment.

It was not till ten years after, I dare say, that something in Dr.
Goldsmith's behaviour struck me with an idea that he was the very man, and
then Johnson confessed it was so; the novel was the charming "Vicar of

There was a Mr. Boyce, too, who wrote some very elegant verses printed in
the magazines of five-and-twenty years ago, of whose ingenuity and distress
I have heard Dr. Johnson tell some curious anecdotes, particularly that
when he was almost perishing with hunger, and some money was produced to
purchase him a dinner, he got a piece of roast beef, but could not eat it
without ketchup, and laid out the last half-guinea he possessed in truffles
and mushrooms, eating them in bed, too, for want of clothes, or even a
shirt to sit up in.

Another man, for whom he often begged, made as wild use of his friend's
beneficence as these, spending in punch the solitary guinea which had been
brought him one morning; when resolving to add another claimant to a share
of the bowl, besides a woman who always lived with him, and a footman who
used to carry out petitions for charity, he borrowed a chairman's watch,
and pawning it for half-a-crown, paid a clergyman to marry him to a
fellow-lodger in the wretched house they all inhabited, and got so drunk
over the guinea bowl of punch the evening of his wedding-day, that having
many years lost the use of one leg, he now contrived to fall from the top
of the stairs to the bottom, and break his arm, in which condition his
companions left him to call Mr. Johnson, who, relating the series of his
tragi-comical distresses obtained from the Literary Club a seasonable

Of that respectable society I have heard him speak in the highest terms,
and with a magnificent panegyric on each member, when it consisted only of
a dozen or fourteen friends; but as soon as the necessity of enlarging it
brought in new faces, and took off from his confidence in the company, he
grew less fond of the meeting, and loudly proclaimed his carelessness WHO
might be admitted, when it was become a mere dinner club. I THINK the
original names, when I first heard him talk with fervour of every member's
peculiar powers of instructing or delighting mankind, were Sir John
Hawkins, Mr. Burke, Mr. Langton, Mr. Beauclerc, Dr. Percy, Dr. Nugent, Dr.
Goldsmith, Sir Robert Chambers, Mr. Dyer, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom he
called their Romulus, or said somebody else of the company called him so,
which was more likely: but this was, I believe, in the year 1775 or 1776.
It was a supper meeting then, and I fancy Dr. Nugent ordered an omelet
sometimes on a Friday or Saturday night; for I remember Mr. Johnson felt
very painful sensations at the sight of that dish soon after his death, and
cried, "Ah, my poor dear friend! I shall never eat omelet with THEE
again!" quite in an agony. The truth is, nobody suffered more from pungent
sorrow at a friend's death than Johnson, though he would suffer no one else
to complain of their losses in the same way; "for," says he, "we must
either outlive our friends, you know, or our friends must outlive us; and I
see no man that would hesitate about the choice."

Mr. Johnson loved late hours extremely, or more properly hated early ones.
Nothing was more terrifying to him than the idea of retiring to bed, which
he never would call going to rest, or suffer another to call so. "I lie
down," said he, "that my acquaintance may sleep; but I lie down to endure
oppressive misery, and soon rise again to pass the night in anxiety and
pain." By this pathetic manner, which no one ever possessed in so eminent
a degree, he used to shock me from quitting his company, till I hurt my own
health not a little by sitting up with him when I was myself far from well;
nor was it an easy matter to oblige him even by compliance, for he always
maintained that no one forbore their own gratifications for the sake of
pleasing another, and if one DID sit up it was probably to amuse oneself.
Some right, however, he certainly had to say so, as he made his company
exceedingly entertaining when he had once forced one, by his vehement
lamentations and piercing reproofs, not to quit the room, but to sit
quietly and make tea for him, as I often did in London till four o'clock in
the morning. At Streatham, indeed, I managed better, having always some
friend who was kind enough to engage him in talk, and favour my retreat.

The first time I ever saw this extraordinary man was in the year 1764, when
Mr. Murphy, who had been long the friend and confidential intimate of Mr.
Thrale, persuaded him to wish for Johnson's conversation, extolling it in
terms which that of no other person could have deserved, till we were only
in doubt how to obtain his company, and find an excuse for the invitation.
The celebrity of Mr. Woodhouse, a shoemaker, whose verses were at that time
the subject of common discourse, soon afforded a pretence, and Mr. Murphy
brought Johnson to meet him, giving me general cautions not to be surprised
at his figure, dress, or behaviour. What I recollect best of the day's
talk was his earnestly recommending Addison's works to Mr. Woodhouse as a
model for imitation. "Give nights and days, sir," said he, "to the study
of Addison, if you mean either to be a good writer, or what is more worth,
an honest man." When I saw something like the same expression in his
criticism on that author, lately published, I put him in mind of his past
injunctions to the young poet, to which he replied, "that he wished the
shoemaker might have remembered them as well." Mr. Johnson liked his new
acquaintance so much, however, that, from that time he dined with us every
Thursday through the winter, and in the autumn of the next year he followed
us to Brighthelmstone, whence we were gone before his arrival; so he was
disappointed and enraged, and wrote us a letter expressive of anger, which
we were very desirous to pacify, and to obtain his company again, if
possible. Mr. Murphy brought him back to us again very kindly, and from
that time his visits grew more frequent, till in the year 1766 his health,
which he had always complained of, grew so exceedingly bad, that he could


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